Seeking Input from Adult Beginners

May 21, 2010 at 05:50 PM ·

This post goes out to the Adult Students on this site, especially the beginners, and those who are trying to instruct themselves.  Basically, I have taught children for years, and therefore, my teaching style has developed alot of childish nuances, such as cute nicknames (Kreisler Highway, Suzuki Jail, etc.)

However, in this town where I now live, I have zero young students. The handful of students I have are 60+!  There seems to be many retirees here!  So, I have a couple questions for you adult learners out there:

Can you name your pet peeves of things teachers do

Can you name what the BEST thing a teacher could do for you as an adult, and just share with me what makes lessons more fulfilling for you. 

And finally, for those of you who are instructing yourselves, I'd like to know what resources you are drawing from, such as this website, your favorite method book, etc.  And if you could tell me what the main reasons are that you are not studying with a teacher? I'd love to be able to work out these kinks and attract more adults to my studio....I just need to supplement my teaching technique a bit.

Much Obliged,   --Lora

Replies (40)

May 21, 2010 at 06:10 PM ·

If I've had a really tough week at work, some weeks when I show up for my lesson I just want to play.  I appreciate it when my teacher grabs the book of easy duets and we just play for an hour. 

Also, I think I want to know the whys and wherefores more now than I did as a child.  I am really appreciating using the books Basics by Simon Fischer. I'm just working my way through it, because it is letting me see how all the pieces of technique fit together. 


May 21, 2010 at 06:41 PM ·

 I don't think we adults are much different from children, at all. Effectively we're children in the violin world. I for one can hardly wait to find out what Suzuki Jail and the Kreisler Highway are. 


I don't think we need simple colorful explanations and lots of repetition any less than a little kid. 

May 21, 2010 at 07:12 PM ·

I'm a returner, not a beginner so no doubt my needs/wants are different.  Early on I just wanted some encouragement and for the teacher to correct any hold/playing errors so that I could learn without introducing bad habbits.  Other than that I just wanted initially to explore music by myself and then share what I've found.  This is changing now to wanting more specific instruction so that I can master some of the subtleties that I have either forgotten or never learned as a child.  Eventually I will need weekly lessons but I need a teacher that understands this evolution.

In a community of older people, returners could be a sizeable number of potential students.


May 21, 2010 at 07:14 PM ·

Oh, and I definitely do not want to be treated as a child.  Neither do I want to be regarded as someone without the potential to master the instrument just because I am older.

May 21, 2010 at 07:32 PM ·

I'm lucky enough to have a teacher i get along with fairly well, things i appreciate personally:

Constant feedback/praise: I don't mean a token "oh, you're doing great" at the end of every lesson but specific things for example my teacher is really happy with my posture, the fact that i can use the whole bow when i play and so on, it helps to know what( exactly) i'm doing right so i can concentrate on other things that need improvement.

Explain Why: Always, even when you think it's something that will become clear to them down the road.

But most important of all is to talk to your students, ask them what they want out of their lessons( this may change over time as it has for me).

May 21, 2010 at 07:32 PM ·

I appreciate when a teacher understands another adults busy life.  Shopping, making meals, maintaining house and transportation, time with kids and spouse/significant other, going through the mail working out budget for the month & pay bills, study for church (5 meetings a week) etc., etc.!  Be happy that we actually DO practice!  We do not always have the time to put in like school students!  How grateful we are that the people in our life understands our needs for practice, lessons and performances!

May 21, 2010 at 07:49 PM ·

I'm with Elaine... I like to know the "whys" and my teacher is happy to oblige me.

I do learn the pieces in the Suzuki books, but am not taught using the actual "Suzuki method". My teacher explains what skill each piece is designed to teach me. His role is more of a coach than a teacher.

If I have an interest in a certain skill, he helps me explore it. Plus we supplement with sheet music and other books (such as books of solo pieces or fiddle tunes, scale books and exercise books that focus on shifting or bow distribution). One of my favorite supplemental books was "Fun With Solos". Right now, the sheet music I'm working on is "Meditation from Thais" and the Brandenburg concertos.

May 21, 2010 at 08:20 PM ·

I'm an older beginner, progressing slowly.
I would like to get better intonation
I would like to know what exercises I need so I can play longer without hurting.
I have larger fingers; I need to know how to position my left hand better
I crowd practice into a busy schedule; ideas for how to get better practice habits would help immensely. NOTE: I find that I have time to practice evenings, but often then I am too tired to practice well.

May 21, 2010 at 08:53 PM ·

I always preferred teaching adults to teaching children because I could appeal to the rational parts of their brains and to their life experiences. Adults can tolerate explanations of WHY one holds the violin and bow according to certain principles.

After I "discovered" the Suzuki program and books at least 35 years ago, I used the books for all my students, supplementing them with appropriate etude or study material for things than needed more practice. I explain what each progressive piece in Suzuki is about (pedagogically).

It seemed to be effective to get to play duets with the adult students early on.

Some students had specific goals and we targeted them, usually achieving them much sooner than expected. This increased the incentive to progress further.

I prepared a couple of 6-hr DVDs of great violinists playing great music and made copies for my students. Seeing and hearing it done can be very helpful - under the guidance of a teacher.


May 21, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

 My teacher must be able to accompany me on the piano, have a sense of humor be patient and  know he/she is dealing with the musically challenged.

May 21, 2010 at 10:25 PM ·

I agree with all that has been written so far.  I've been taking classical lessons for 1 1/2 years and am amazed at the progress that I have made.  I am equally amazed at the months that can go by where it feels and sounds like I am getting no where - then I start to be able to do or hear or feel something that I couldn't do/hear/feel before.  That realization feels like magic, but until then it is a sincere act of faith that the practice will pay off.  I appreciate that my teacher is sincere in his praise, but not overblown.  His comments of "Not bad" and "there were some good things in there" are believable and encouraging. 

I am surprised to find there are some things that I need to really persevere to work through and yet there are others that my teacher tells me will work themselves out.  With the former, I buckle down and drill, with the latter I relax and set it out of my mind.  In the past 18 months, he's been right about them all. During the many years of self-learning I probably spent many hours struggling on things that simply needed time and ignoring things that needed attention.

My teacher gives me assignments out of eight books.  I have a one hour lesson most weeks (depending on our respective schedules) and we alternate the type of lesson.  That is to say, one lesson is techincal (scales, shifts, Kreutzer studies) followed by a lesson where we play duets (if my solo is worthy). 

My teacher offers thoughtful explanations and demonstrations (including mirror work), but he always follows this with making me do it.  Sometimes it seems that he doesn't realize that my mind and limbs are trying to integrate 15 instructions into a single motion - and I am tempted to protest that he is asking too much.  But I almost hold my tongue because usually I can do what he asks even when I'm convinced it is impossible.  The LAST thing I want to do is convince my teacher that there's a good reason why I can't get a good sound from my instrument.  :-)


May 22, 2010 at 12:24 AM ·

As an adult beginner who has had many physical challenges with playing the violin, I would most appreciate a teacher who understands setup and fitting of the instrument, and who is able to help me overcome my physical obstacles, and help me play with the least physical discomfort.

Since playing violin is such a physically difficult learning experience for me, I get a lot of satisfaction from the cognitive aspects of violin learning - I have read many books, done research online, and of course found lots of good information on this site, to understand how things work, from the body to the equipment. So, I agree with others' comments about adults' need to know why, although I don't usually ask my teacher that question - we are already too busy dealing with other issues in the lessons, so I leave the "whys" as my homework.

I also agree about playing duets in lessons - I feel like I'm really making music when my teacher plays duets with me, so it's a reward for a week of hard work.

The things I most appreciate about my teacher: 

1) Emphasize that pain is not an option: whenever I complain about pain, she would become nervous, and try to help me figure out a solution, or remind me to practice less.

2) Emphasize the fun aspect of violin playing: she is a Suzuki teacher, so she has a bag of tricks for fun stuff to show me. When I requested more technical exercises, she asked me when I would have time to play for fun if I worked on so much technical stuff? Good point! :)

3) Allow me to experiment what works for me, instead of insisting on picture-perfect everything. Of course, there have been times when she would say "Don't do that because...," but she understands what's normal for others may be painful if not impossible for me, so as long as she sees no harm in doing something, she let me get away with it. :)

4) Treat me like an equal partner in my lesson plan: She understands my goals, and helps me work toward those goals. She often let me pick what I like to play, and let me move to something else if I hated a piece. She would consult me whether I got tired of it when I had been playing the same scale/arpeggios or etude for a while before she decided to let me keep it for another week. Of course, I don't abuse this privilege, and there have been times that she gave me green light to move on to a new piece, but I asked to keep the old one when my playing was not up to my standard.

5) Help me practice efficiently: I see that the main purpose of a lesson is to identify the areas that I need to work on for the next week, and as an adult, I thought that I have the discipline and common sense to practice efficiently, but I was wrong! She has to remind me to practice slowly, and only attack the problem spots that need work (not play through, or play an entire phrase) ALL THE TIME.

May 22, 2010 at 12:42 AM ·

 I think the number 1 most important thing when teaching an adult is 'ask them what they want to achieve and how'

an adult will know whether they want to learn in an easy 'laid back' way and be happy with knowing how to play simple things or whether they want  to learn all the technique out there and work hard! Also not only we had different expectations but indeed very different a talk about our aims/goals and how we would like to get there is the best thing!

and never 'assume' anything


that's my only suggestion

May 22, 2010 at 12:54 AM ·

All of the responses above are great and I agree with each and every one.

The one thing I'd add though is coaching ensembles. Playing chamber music is the highlight of my week, and getting coaching in that environment is not only alot of fun, but educational as well.  From time to time, I've had teachers who would coach chamber groups either as a one-off scheduled event, and sometimes on regular basis (monthly / bimonthly).

May 22, 2010 at 01:27 AM ·

I take a one-hour lesson once a week.  I began playing just over three years ago.

There are a number of things that I like about my teacher which are about our relationship as adults:  we are both committed to my learning and taking lessons on a regular basis, but we are both realistic about demands on my time (and sometimes on hers).  If I am away or ill or busy - or if she is - we simply reschedule or let it go that week.  We are friendly and we chitchat like adults do; we are interested in one another's experiences whether musical or not.  We treat my learning as collaboration.

She is one of the most polite people I am acquainted with, and she is always absolutely courteous about my performance.  Neither of us thinks she is wrong when she says, "That G is sharp to my ear," but she leaves open the possibility that whatever is happening in my ear or my brain has value within my learning experience.  She uses that standard technique of the person who gets along with others: when she criticizes she speaks abstractly but when she praises she speaks personally: "The rhythm is rushed here," but "You counted that perfectly."  The couple of times I have simply lost it in a lesson, she behaved as if it were regrettable that I was unhappy, but normal that I was in tears. She is simply nice - and I guess I wish all teachers were, but if one is not naturally nice, it's worth working on.

She chooses what I am going to play next as a rule, but is usually agreeable when I suggest something.  She often tells me what the major pedagogical value is of a particular exercise.  She explains the whys and wherefores so I can think for myself next time around.  I very highly value her store of techniques for analyzing and solving problems and often use them myself when it occurs to me I am facing a similar problem.

I wasn't sure what I was going to say when I got started, but I think I can sum it up: she respects me, she is courteous to me, and she is working to make me an independent musician.

May 22, 2010 at 09:44 AM ·

I definitely agree that the whys and wherefors are great to know, being able to make use of abstraction is one of our main advantages over a child beginner. Fischer's Basics is worth its weight in gold. Similarly, techniques to approach, break down, separate out and work the different aspects of problem spots in music are key.

Biggest disadvantage for an adult learner that needs to be accounted for is going to be the mileage: the positioning just isn't going to work the same because of old injuries and ailments. Eg. My right ring finger doesn't bend properly and is squeehawed in the wrong direction a bit. It's not gonna run parallel with my middle finger when i'm holding a bow under its own power, much to the chagrin of my teacher. Took a while to realize that no, that joint no longer does that.. and i'm only in my twenties.

I'm pretty sure using cutesy phrases is way different than treating somebody like a child, good mnemonics and descriptions are usually simple and childish and easy to remember. No need for something more profound than rocket ships and spiders and good boys that deserve fudge.


Resources i've found useful for supplementing my lessons/practice:

Books: Basics, Auer's violin playing as i teach it, the way they play, some theory books from,

youtube for the todd ehle videos and for the sori1004jy videos(seeing somebody playing suzuki is better than just listening, currently all posted by some user named caecilius192)

youtube also for the nigh infinite amount of violin music played by masters.

random blogs and sites: westbury park strings, violinmasterclass, violin alchemist, here, myriad others that i just don't have bookmarked but have read through.

games/programs:,, functional ear trainer(website:

May 22, 2010 at 08:05 PM ·

There are three things that my teacher does that make my learning experience really great.  I think they've all been mentioned above, but they important enough to me for me to add my two cents:

1)  He is very flexible in terms of schedule.  We are both very busy, sometimes stuff just happens, and we always manage to work something out.

2) His infinite patience with me making and remaking the same types of intonation and bow handling errors.

3) His understanding with my physical limitations as a middle-aged joint-challenged small-handed adult.

May 22, 2010 at 08:50 PM ·

Something else my teacher, who is my age, understands that younger teachers seem to not... is that I do not make the muscles or what muscles I have do not tone up as fast as they did when I was 20!  So it takes longer to build the endurance or muscles too accomplish études and works!  I comprehend what actions my hands and arms need to do... but it takes a little more time for me to build the muscle and tone to do what I need to do.  Afterwords I just as adept as any other student!

May 22, 2010 at 09:00 PM ·

O.K. as a self study person, because noone wanted to teach an OLD FART !

I would like to see cheaper rates for adults, here an average price price for adults is in the range of 75- 100 per month witha 1 year contract

my resources are as follows

here,fiddleguru.Todd ehle,violinmasterpro,speedyviolin lessons, and essential elements

May 23, 2010 at 12:45 PM ·

1) Patience. I am always amazed by my teacher's patience. When my bow is going off at a crazy angle for the 10th week in a row she just deals with it.

2) Very specific instruction. Concentrating on the nitty gritty technical stuff.

3) Understanding what I want to achieve both in terms of my playing ability and extrinsic goals like exams.

4) Selective praise and gentle critisism. Not just saying that everything is fantastic or getting too bogged down in pulling everything apart.

5) Knowing when to move on and when to stay put.  Sometimes it's best to leave an unpolished piece alone for a while, sometimes its best stick with it. It just depends.

6) Being able to play the piano is a plus. I think one of the problems with my grade 5 attempt was that I had only played the pieces through with a piano 4 or 5 times. Sticking on a CD is a viable alternative though as I don't think it's reasonable to expect all violinists to be pianists. 

7) To some extent being able to understand the psychological state of the learner. No one expects a violin teacher to be a counsellor but little things are important such as realising that if your learner has had to deal with something hideous at work it might not be the best week for attempting something too demanding.

8) Knowing that sometimes it's fun (and motivating!) just to play an easier piece from beginning to end.

Hope that's not too repetitve. Interesting thread.







May 23, 2010 at 01:44 PM ·

What do I like from a teacher who teaches adults??? 

Someone who is understanding for shedules and life unexpected event as school, work etc  (this is why a teacher who is retired or can give you lessons in his studio rather than directly at the conservatory main building where the scedule is more strict is very appreciated...) 

Someone who will not treat you differently than a kid.  Sure a teacher will not explain things in the same way or put a sticker on your books but I mean that some teachers push kids harder than adults as if adults didn't worth to be pushed as much because anyway, they will never make as much progress...  I disagree with this.  I maybe won't make as much progress as when I was a teen because of time issues but I want each lesson to be as serious and as challenging as when I was a teen to still progress the most possible in my new context.  Possibly this also depends on what the adults want.  Some wouldn't be happy to be pushed as much as a kid while others ask just this ; )  

Interesting topic!


May 23, 2010 at 02:03 PM ·

Nice dog... ; )

May 24, 2010 at 12:51 AM ·

Wow! Thank you ALL for the virtual TREASURE TROVE of information! I'm going to  print this thread and put it up in my studio. I even learned a new word: "Squeehawed"! Thank you all for taking the time. I found your comments incredibly helpful.  Thank also for the links and the resources. Most I've heard of, but several I had not.

I don't think I have been very sensitive to my students'  "old joints"...and I am guilty of not wanting to push my adults as hard as I would kids....not because they are not worth it, but because I feel funny bossing a 70 year old around! But I will have a good discussion with both of my "Old Farts" and try to really get their input. (their lessons are back to back, and they greet each other by saying  "Hey there, ya old fart!" It's hilarious!

Thanks again all!  ---Lora

May 24, 2010 at 01:31 PM ·


May 26, 2010 at 06:10 AM ·

Stephen Brivati mentioned this in one discussion; adults want to make music, and that playing duets with their teachers is helpful to us. I couldn't agree more. 

I wish my teacher would play duets with me, instead of talking and explaining. (and talking).  I can learn by playing duets, it would help me get over my shyness of playing in front of people, it would help me keep up with the rythym, it would help with intonation, it would help with musicality, it would build some self-confidence. It would be so much fun.

Just one piece, played over a few times, at the begining of the lesson, when there's more time to play it, and to loosen up before getting down to something more serious.

May 26, 2010 at 01:52 PM ·

Catherine--ask your teacher to play duets with you before the end of the lessons, and he will do it, tell him that it help you to foucs on counting, listening etc....

If you don't tell him to do that for you, he will not do it, and he will talk more just to get to the time that the lesson are up. Suggest a Duet piece with him before you start your lesson, that way he's aware of how the lesson will go, because there is one more task to do and that is your duets with him.


May 26, 2010 at 02:52 PM ·

Catherine - I had a teacher much like you describe. I dumped him.

May 26, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

 I'm an adult beginner who is currently learning to play the violin on my own.  Why on my own?  Monetary reasons being the principal reason at the moment.  I have had private lessons, but I didn't feel that I was learning as much as I wanted.  I actually learned more by "researching" music theory and watching some youtube performances/instructions (Todd Ehle, to name one) then from taking lessons.  I guess I just needed to know more of HOW and WHY.

I currently use Essential Elements and Suzuki books (along with SmartMusic software), but I also have several other books that I try to use as well (i.e. Wohlfahrt, Sevcik, etc).  I also try to either listen to a tune that I'm trying to learn and or watch performances of the tune on youtube.  I'm a visual learner and sometimes watching someone play the tune helps me with rhythm.

What I want from my future teacher is to know the "why" and "how" when trying to learn a new skill/music.  It is important to me to know what skill I am working on and how to best go about it during practice times. I don't mind working on multiple things, but it would give me a clear focus so that I can best utilize my limited practice times.  Lastly, I would like my teacher to be involved with recitals, so that I can be challenged and be able to perform in front of others.  It doesn't have to be anything grand a simple get together with other students at a local Nursing Home or Church would be nice every now and again.

My greatest pet peeves with teachers/instructors is to come to a lesson to hear them talk about their weekend/dog/whatever for 10 minutes or more.  I go to my lesson time slot to learn to play the violin and I am paying good money for it too, so let's get to it!  You can call me later or meet me for a friendly chat over a cup of joe and tell me all about it.  ;-)


May 26, 2010 at 06:17 PM ·

As a teacher of numerous adult students, thank you so much for posting this thread, and also for the very informative responses - very helpful to think about what adults want!


May 26, 2010 at 08:02 PM ·

I'm a teacher of adult beginners and rebeginners, and I appreciate everyone's input.  I'll only add one thing:  Each (adult) person is different, and I've got to find which approach suits which person.  The suggestions that were made most frequently are probably the ones which will work with most adult beginners.

I'll also add that I love teaching adult beginners.  Both the challenges and the rewards are great.

May 26, 2010 at 08:42 PM ·

I'm not a beginner, but as an adult, I certainly approach violin very differently than as a child.  When I was younger, I just wanted to pass each etude, lesson, etc.  and getting my teacher's approval was very important to me.

Now that I am playing for my own enjoyment, the approval of my teacher is much less important.  What IS important and the whole reason I take lessons is to improve.  So I just want to get AT LEAST 1 or 2 nuggets with each lesson.  Something that I can apply to my playing that will help my sound or intonation or technique. 

In the ideal world (note, I have yet to find any teacher that does this, perhaps it is not realistic), it would be nice to have a road map of sorts.  What I mean is, I would like to have a sense of where I'm going.  For example, for the next 3 months, we will work on <x>, then we will concentrate on <y> for 6 months, with the goal of being able to play <z> in 2-3 years.  Maybe my teachers have had this in the back of their minds, but did not share it with me, but I feel that I go to each lesson and make little adjustments here and there, and eventually, I  will improve.  But I don't have a big picture view of my playing and where it is going, or where I should expect to be in another year or two. 


June 5, 2010 at 01:04 PM ·

A local teacher has agreed to soon begin lessons on an occasional or modular basis:  when I have worked on the assigned module and am ready for another lesson, she and I will find a time when someone else has canceled or she has extra time.  She already has a full studio of mostly children taking weekly lessons.  Right now I cannot afford the time or money to take weekly lessons.  I might make mistakes that need correction, but every lesson will be a time that I am prepared.  This allows me to have at least some instruction. 

I think a teacher could add more income by adding new students in this way if he or she is not teaching a full schedule.  If someone is really enthusiastic and the teacher is very structured in organizing what skills to master in what order, the "irregular" students who fill spare slots on a first-come first-served basis will be good advertising to bring in other students, weekly or otherwise, and the "irregulars" will either drop off entirely or hopefully become more regular. 

June 11, 2010 at 10:11 PM ·

I like late starters (including teens), because I can deal with them on a logical basis.  They often progress very fast, because they understand things like key signatures, finger patterns and intervals within a few lessons.

Also, being a late re-starter myself, I don't place as many doubtful limitations on their potential as some musicians seem to.  I expect them to be able to succeed (if they put in the work, of course). 

So my main advice is: treat them as logical beings, and don't doubt their potential.

June 12, 2010 at 08:18 PM ·

I'm not a beginner...more of an eternal intermediate player (drives me batty)...and I don't have a teacher at the moment.

When I do go back for instruction...I'll be looking for a mature, seasoned teacher who can work with me on improving areas where I seem to be stuck and can't unstick myself.  I also need someone that I'm comfortable with...who can deal with my middle-aged anxieties and foibles... (er, only the violin-related ones...;))


June 13, 2010 at 12:10 PM ·

 I third, fourth, or fifth appreciation for a flexible schedule.  I have to change a lesson time every couple of months due to work issues, and that's probably never going to change until I retire!  (but maybe retirees still have that issue)

I agree with Smiley that one aspect I've been missing, as a relatively advanced adult returner, is a big picture or road map of where I'm going, technique-wise.  I think the need for flexibility can work at cross purposes to that.  I end up fitting my lessons in around my needs in all areas of life, and so, for example, I'll have an orchestra concert coming up, or a string quartet recital, and I'll bring that music to go over in my lesson.  My teacher won't necessarily know beforehand what I'm bringing, so there is no way she can develop this overall road map, and I'm just not very good in that area myself, either.  

But I am good--much better as an adult than I was as a child--at knowing the specifics of what I need to work on and formulating questions for my teacher.  As a kid I just had a vague notion that my playing didn't sound that good.  Now I have a better idea why and what needs to be done to make it better.  

One thing I would suggest is to not assume anything with your students with regard to how they want something to sound, or how they would interpret a piece.  Don't assume that their ideas will be mainstream, or will be like yours.

Recently my teacher and I spent about five minutes discussing a passage and talking past each other before I realized that her comments were directed primarily at getting me to play the passage more legato.  It was obvious to her from the beginning that that was what this passage required, but I was more focused on intonation and a smooth shift, and I wasn't even sure, when she pointed it out, that I wanted to make it more legato.  After a bit more discussion, and her demonstrating it for me by playing it, I came around to her point of view and we moved forward with the shared goal of playing the passage legato. 

But it took some time and effort to get to that shared goal because we had to get past the assumption that it would be immediately obvious that her way was how it should sound.  Her view was developed over years of experience, playing, listening, and teaching at a high level--which I, even as an adult student, just don't have.

June 19, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

 You've certainly got a lot of response in this thread. I don't know what I can add, except that I'm 47 and I just took up the violin this week. 

I am not a typical adult beginner, except that the last time I played a small bowed instrument, was 6th grade. I played viola.

Anyway, I started out on piano as a kid, played electric bass in college, played guitar and sax over the years, then got my masters on upright bass.

So my needs might be different than a typical adult beginner.

The main thing I'm  looking for now is a comprehensive understanding of the fingerboard. I considered tuning the instrument in 4ths while I get more comfortable with all of the different technical aspects, but I decided that that would lock me into the different positions that the Bass uses. Being tuned in 5ths, the violin offers covering more territory within one position. 

So I'm getting the Flesch is a good scale book. I just want to understand the most modern and universally accepted scale system so that when I start etudes, or other literature, I don't waste a lot of time wondering what the best fingerings are.

And just my 2 cents, I hope I don't offend any other adult students, but I've taught both adults and children and the main difference I've noticed is that children don't question as much, and they accept the role of teacher/student much better. That's the world they live in. They spend every day being told what to do. They are more likely to take direction. They are not yet critical thinkers like adults have to be. 

Adults question and analyze everything you tell them. They can't help it. They want to talk about it. It slows down the process. A lot of learning to play an instrument is not about talking about it's about DOING. Adults are usually a little slow at getting to it. They learn more slowly than kids because they think too much about. 

Adult students have to rationalize things, keep getting over self doubt, re-committing the time and expense toward playing. Kids don't have these problems. They are not paying for the lessons, they don't care much about time. They don't think in terms of goals as much. 

Adults should think more like this.

June 19, 2010 at 06:16 PM ·

I agree with SmileyH's post. I took up the violin after a (very long) hiatus.

My preference is to ensure that my technique advances by a few small notches every week and to know where I am going. Nobody likes to get the feeling (about the weekly lessons) that gas costs $3 a gallon and we don't know where we're going.  Is it an expedition to unearth Mayan temples in the Yucatan peninsula, which could take forever, or are we going from DC to LA with a fixed time line, with LA being the piece you always wanted to play but couldn't?

As adults, unless you are Heifetz or Milstein playing flawlessly at 80+, muscular agility tends to degenerate along with sight. Given this backdrop, it appears to be imperative to work toward a goal in a fixed frame of time and to let the teacher know what the goal is.  The time frame should then provide an expectation to the teacher to provide a breakdown of the technique required to accomplish the playing of the target piece. A sort of a project plan with tasks, each with a corresponding duration. The etudes, scales, technical excerpts should then be tailored to achieving that goal with several measurable milestones along the way.

Much too often, the expectations of the teacher and that of the adult student are poles apart, with a bunch of unspoken assumptions from both sides thrown into the mix. leading to a lot of shoulda, woulda coulda.

June 20, 2010 at 10:40 AM ·

Fascinating topic! To try and draw some themes from the dissussion:

Please be flexible: adult learners will likely vary much more than young children in terms of their musical experience and goals. One size will not fit all - we need an approach tailored to our interests and aptitudes.

Please support us as independent learners: the average adult will hopefully have a greater capacity for independent learning than the average tiny tot, so empower us by helping us to find our own solutions.

For example in my own case, I'm an adult beginner in my mid 50's and perhaps untypical in that I played the cello as a kid and am a reasonably confident musician on other instruments. My personal aim is to play Scottish fiddle in the Doric style, which is technically fairly demanding, and I'm also interested in the classical Baroque, but not very drawn to the Romantic. Which means that some areas of technique and repertoire are of much more relevance to me than others.

So what I'm seeking is a teacher who will guide me towards becoming an independent problem-solver - someone who can help me understand first principles so that I can evolve an approach that suits my own physique, temperament and goals. And someone flexible enough to adapt their priorities and repertoire to my interests. I think I'm lucky enough to have found such a paragon - though as she is understandably in great demand, I'm still on her waiting list. Looking forward to my first lesson in the Autumn!

As for helpful self-learning materials, yes, I'm using the wonderful Todd Ehle YouTube channel, and Basics. But the most helpful resources I have found, strangely enough, have come from the world of cello technique. Perhaps because it is such an unreasonably difficult instrument, I get the impression that there is more innovation and experimentation in cello pedagogy than in the field of violin.

First, a lovely article by Tim Janov on the importance of fundamentals in developing simplicity of technique. I re-read this pretty much weekly, and its helping me keep focused on the key basics.

And most important, for me, there is the innovative approach of a remarkable teacher named Margaret Rowell:

During her long career, she conducted a perceptive search for the fundamental principles that underlie the superficially differing techniques of the great artists, working closely with Casals, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, Fournier, Rose, Nelsova, Ma and others. She was interested in finding an approach to helping mere mortals achieve something of the freedom of expression that the greats had developed in a largely intuitive way. What she evolved is a process of enquiry that unlocks the sources of freedom, power and expressiveness in string playing.

I have posted about Margaret before, to a conspicuous lack of response. But I will raise her work from time to time in the hope that others will be open minded enough to explore the links I have posted and gain the same benefits I have enjoyed. A number of good musicians have suggested that I'm making unusual progress, but I know from my cello career that I have no particular aptitude. So I put it down almost entirely to Margaret's insights.

As an adult learner, I want a practical sense of what I'm aiming for in terms of technique, and a workable roadmap for getting there. I feel that Margaret's teaching has given me this feeling of empowerment, in the sense that I'm beginning to understand the fundamentals that underlie good technique. I'm hoping that my live teacher will help me move forward in the same spirit.

June 23, 2010 at 06:03 PM ·

Thanks again to you all for your long, thoughtful, thorough, informative input! I printed this entire thread from beginning to end.

My free time is limited (I know you all can relate)....but I'm going to explore the resources you all listed, including the Cello pedagogue, Margaret Rowell!

Best of luck to you all.  --Lora

September 20, 2010 at 09:29 PM ·


Did you ever take a look at Margaret Rowell's teaching approach? If you did, I'd love to hear how you got on. I'm still finding her ideas endlessly productive!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program Business Directory Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine